In the ancient township of Tiruchulli in a dry, dusty corner of South India, legend speaks of Lord Shiva saving the land from a deluge on three separate occasions. By planting his trident into the earth, Shiva created a hole for the water to flow into. At the place where he planted his trident stands the large temple of Bhuminatheswara (Lord of the Earth). Just across the street from this old temple is the house where young Venkataraman was born in December 1879.
Though destined to become one of the great sages of modern times, there were no outward signs that would reveal his forthcoming Realization. After the death of his father, Venkataraman’s family moved to the famous temple town of Madurai so that they could be under the watchful eye of a paternal uncle. It was here that the “Awakening” would take place, that waves of spiritual fervor would overtake him while reading the Periapuranam, the lives of the sixty-three Tamil saints. From his childhood, there was a continual inner throbbing of “Arunachala, Arunachala,” as if the Self — his real Being — was reminding him of his forgotten nature. Once, when a visiting relative recounted his recent pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai (a temple town where the solitary, sacred hill Arunachala rises above the South Indian plains), young Venkataraman became astonished and overwhelmed that Arunachala was in fact a place on earth — a place one could actually go to.
Shortly after this time, during a hot July day when Venkataraman was just sixteen, he faced his own mortality One day, when everyone else wasI away from home, the young boy became completely overcome with the fear of death. Rather than panic or retreat into fear, Venkataraman had the remarkable presence of mind to face the situation, then and there. He dramatized the death occurrence to be able to help bring the experience to its ultimate conclusion, by holding his breath, stiffening his body, and allowing no sound to escape his lips.
To die before death is to face the void; the emptiness in which the content of the mind has no ground on which to endure. It is rare for one to face the void without recoiling back into form. Venkataraman, like the Buddha, was determined to stay the course. Upon firm investigation into the nature of his “I-sense,” his former self died, and the infinite Self, the Eternal “I,” rose to take its place — the true resurrection.
After this experience, Venkataraman stopped going out to play with friends and preferred solitude. He says of this period:
“I would often sit alone and become absorbed in the Self, the Spirit, the force or current which constituted me. I would continue in this despite the jeers of my elder brother who would sarcastically call me ‘Sage’ or ‘Yogi’ and advise me to retire into the jungle like the ancient Rishis.”
When his brother reprimanded him in August of that year for behaving like a sadhu, while enjoying the amenities of home life, Venkataraman recognized the truth of his brother’s words. He rose to his feet, claiming that he had to return to school and left for Arunachala. He said of his state at that time:
“When I left home, I was like a speck swept on by a tremendous flood; I knew not my body or the world, whether it was day or night.”
Providence guided the young sage on his journey home. The vibration in his heart, of “Arunachala, Arunachala,” acted as a guiding light.
Absorbed in the bliss of Being, he sat and slept in various places around the Hill and in the temple — sometimes moving when groups of young rascals would pelt him with stones. Just as a light cannot be hidden under a bushel, the light of Venkataraman’s realization became evident, attracting a few earnest seekers. Those were people who wanted to bathe in the peace of his presence – a peace that gently settled upon one, lifting one from the persistent cycle of thought.
Ganapathi Muni, a great Sanskrit scholar and yogi, had his doubts cleared by the young sage who was then living on the slopes of the Arunachala Hill. Deeply impressed and touched by his great wisdom, the Muni proclaimed that Venkataraman should subsequently be known as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Sri Ramana Maharshi
Just as Ramana realized the Self without prior spiritual or philosophical instruction, he attached little importance to theoretical study. His teachings are uniquely suited to modern life and provide for a balanced synthesis of head and heart. Maharshi consistently guided the seeker back to the source of abiding happiness — one’s own Self.
The teachings of Ramana Maharshi are among the clearest and most direct of the advaitic (nondualistic) teachings originating from India. Advaita simply means “not two.” Ramana taught that we exist as the Supreme Self at all times. We need only awaken to this reality by seeking the source of the ego, or “I-thought,” and abide in the Self that we always are. He referred to this method as Self-Inquiry.
Ramana always encouraged people to lead life in the most natural manner. There was no question of engaging or disengaging in activity — all happens according to destiny. The primary consideration is to be free from the “I-am-the-doer” illusion.
The path of Self-Inquiry liberates one from the never-ending fear and disorder resulting from taking the ego to be real. By becoming free of the ego-illusion, one experiences true freedom and supreme peace. It is a path that takes one from the apparent duality of the individual and the world to the bliss of one’s real nature.
Through this awakening to Self-awareness, even by imperfect glimpses, one begins to sense a Reality not limited to the ego’s world. And, this current of Awareness, is ultimately revealed as the Self — Pure Consciousness. Though we often refer to the teaching of Ramana Maharshi as a “path,” it is truly pathless. When we abide in our true Being, we turn our back on time — on becoming; and consequently on spending time purifying the very mind and ego structures that only need to be discarded. Maharshi observes:
“You impose limitations on your true nature of Infinite Being, and then weep that you are but a finite creature. Then you take up this or that sadhana (spiritual practice) to transcend the nonexistent limitations. But if your sadhana itself assumes the existence of the limitations, how can it help you to transcend them?”
Those who surrounded Ramana during his lifetime came from very diverse cultural and social backgrounds. What they had in common was a sincere aspiration to experience true inner peace and freedom. Maharshi .never saw anyone as separate from himself and had no disciples in the I traditional sense. He regularly said that the Guru was not the physical form, and that guidance would continue after the demise of the Guru’s body. Therefore, there was no need to create a lineage, or provide for transmission to carry on successorship.
After years of living in caves upon the Arunachala hill, the Maharshi moved down to its base, near the burial place of his mother. After a short time, a small ashram began to take shape around him, and what is now the current Sri Ramanasramam had its modest beginning. Seekers from all backgrounds and religions came to bask in his presence.
Ramana sat in a modest hall, available day and night to answer questions from sincere seekers. His only possessions were a loincloth and a towel. Maharshi never asked anything of anyone. He never traveled, gave formal talks, or wrote books. He spontaneously answered questions asked of him and was unconcerned regarding the comings and goings of visitors. Yet, he meticulously attended to detail when engaged in the work that he did each day. Whether it was preparing food in the kitchen, stitching a notebook out of leftover paper, or going through ashram proofs, Maharshi always taught mindfulness by example. What’s more remarkable is that throughout all the years he lived at the Ashram, he never had a private room or separate accommodation. He slept and lived in the Hall — the same location that visitors occupied days and evenings with him. Only much later toward the last year of his life, when his health was frail, was a small room constructed for his use.
Whoever came to the hermitage to sit in Ramana’s presence — whatever their religious or cultural background — all felt he belonged to them. And indeed he did, for “I” is common to all people, and the investigation into its true nature reveals a Unity that is universal — beyond mind-made differences.
Throughout the more than fifty-four years that Maharshi guided seekers from various parts of the world, he never swerved from the essential task of bringing the questioner back to the truth of his or her own Existence. Whatever form the question would take, Ramana would patiently and gently lead the questioner back to the “one who questions.”
The legacy of Ramana Maharshi lives in his teachings. The directness and simplicity of the approach appeal to many people, especially in our time. Since wherever we may be our own Self is always available, there are no special requirements for investigating who we truly are.
In 1949, it was detected that Maharshi had malignant sarcoma in his left arm. In spite of intense medical care, on April 14,1950, his physical end was evident. In the evening, as devotees sat outside the room built specially for his convenience during this final illness, they spontaneously began to sing the refrain to one of his stirring hymns to Arunachala.
Arthur Osborne (biographer of Ramana and editor of his written works) writes – about that evening:
“On hearing it, Ramana’s eyes open and shone, he gave a brief smile of indescribable tenderness. From the outer corner of his eyes, tears of bliss rolled down. One more deep breath, and no more. At that very moment — 8:47 p.m. — an enormous star trailed slowly across the sky passing to the northeast peak of Arunachala. The meteor was noted as far away as Bombay.”
Many of those who had the good fortune to benefit from his physical presence begged him not to leave; Ramana made it very clear that he was not the body, so there was no concern for his leaving. He told those around him:
“They say that I am dying, but I am not going away. Where could I go? I am here.”
One of the great collections of dialogues between the Sage and his inquirers is contained in the book you now hold in your hands. Carefully recorded in English, by Munagala S. Venkataramiah, the wisdom in these “talks” will certainly guide us to that profound clarity if we open ourselves completely to it. Only the thirst for true freedom is required. The words of Ramana Maharshi are the mirror of wisdom; whenever we turn to them we see the reflection of our true nature:
“There is no greater mystery than the following: Ourselves being the Reality, we seek to gain reality. We think there is something hiding our Reality, and that it must be destroyed before the Reality is gained. That is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now.”